By James Slater: Rewind to January 1991, and unbeaten heavyweight contender ďMercilessĒ Ray Mercer, a 1988 Olympic gold medallist, was on his way towards becoming a pro champion. Although Mercer never quite managed to win the big one (the undisputed title), he did thrill the fans with some unforgettable action fights, and he did become the WBO heavyweight king.
Article posted on 12.01.2012
In fact, it was exactly 21-years ago today that ďMercilessĒ scored one of his most amazing KOís - his come-from-behind destruction of the 27-0 Francesco Damiani. Trailing badly on the scorecards (behind on all three cards - by a whopping six points on one card), Mercer, refusing to lose heart, pulled out a sizzling left uppercut/hook in the 9th-round - a punch that shattered the Italianís nose and left him down and out and covered with blood.
Mercer went on from that win to score a brutal, 5th-round KO over the much-hyped Tommy Morrison (in Rayís one and only WBO title retention), and he then fought top names like Larry Holmes, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Tim Witherspoon and Wladimir Klitschko.
It is the Damiani fight (along with the Morrison fight) that 50-year-old Mercer remembers most vividly today, however.
I called the former champ up today, reminding him that he won the WBO belt 21-years ago today.
James Slater: Itís always great to be able to speak with you, Ray. And the fans love reading about a great heavyweight who gave exciting fights, because there arenít any today! Itís actually 21-years ago today when you beat Damiani to win the WBO belt!
Ray Mercer: Whoah! I didnít even know that. 21-years - wow! I have a reason to celebrate today; itís 21-years since I became world heavyweight champion.
J.S: Iíve just re-watched the fight; itís amazing to me how much Damiani looked like Gerry Cooney. De he remind you of Cooney?
R.M: Yeah, he looked just like him. Looking at him, he didnít look like he could box or that he was fast, but Damiani could really move. He never hurt me. They say speed generates power, and he had speed, but he never hurt me. I was losing that fight from every which way though! But I knew Iíd get him. I knew Iíd catch him.
J.S: The great Al Bernstein called that fight, along with, I think it, was Barry Tompkins. Tompkins seemed to think Damian had quit, as the punch seemed to have missed. Al was on top of it, though, and he called it a perfect shot, on the tip of the nose. When the shot landed, did you know instantly that he was gonna go?
R.M: No I didnít. I never knew as he was laying on me that he was out, but it was a great punch. And as I saw him down, with blood all over, I knew he wasnít getting up!
J.S: Your next fight took place a long nine months later, when you scored another great KO, over Tommy Morrison. Why the delay between fights?
R.M: Well, we had to delay the Morrison fight, because Iíd twisted my ankle during training. I was playing basketball, which I shouldnít have been, and that was why the fight had to be postponed. No-one knew it.
J.S: And the Morrison win, like the Damiani win, was in Atlantic City - you must have great memories of that place, champ?
R.M: Oh yes. That was a home base for me. I trained there for all my big fights.
J.S: You then fought Larry Holmes and lost on points. Do you regret taking that fight, and who would you have liked to have fought instead?
R.M: Definitely Iíd have liked anyone else. Larry was my idol and it was an honour to fight him; even though the guy beat me. I wish Iíd have fought someone else, like a Razor Ruddock - or a Mike Tyson, that was the one I really wanted (laughs).
J.S: What a great fight that would have been, Ray! If youíd met in 1991 or í92, I think the fans would have been given a classic.
R.M: Right. Thatís the one I always wanted.
J.S: As always, itís been a pleasure speaking to you. Thanks, champ.
R.M: Thank you.